Peter du Toit

Dec 014 min read

Eyes Wide Open

It’s been over a month that I have paused publishing content on Facebook. Primarily because of having lost faith in the leadership of the company as explained here.

The problem is still this:

In the case of Facebook, they offer a “free” platform, but in exchange for “free”, tracks your every move on the internet, whether that be the sites you visit, comments you make, photos you publish, places you visit etc. and then creates a digital profile of you which is then is sold to anyone willing to pay to micro target you with advertising or political messaging.

In a recent interview Tristan Harris explained it this way when answering the question as to whether Facebook or Google listen to your conversations via the phone microphone:

“Inside of a Google server or a Facebook server is a little voodoo doll, avatar-like version of you, like a model of you. And I don’t have to listen to your conversations because I’ve accumulated all the clicks – the nail filings and hair clippings are all the clicks and likes you’ve ever made – and it makes this voodoo doll act more like you. So, all I have to do is simulate what conversations the voodoo doll is having, and I know the conversation you just had without having to listen to the microphone.”

You can watch the fascinating and important conversation this quote was taken from here.

When the Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal broke (which Facebook is still embroiled in) we discovered that using Facebook data, CA had access to some 5,000 data points from your “voodoo doll avatar.” That is a massive amount of personal data that they have sucked up!

In fact when you download your data off of Facebook you are met with this piece of screen:

The above helps you understand just how much data they have on you.

The second issue with Facebook, as things stand at the moment, is that they refuse to ban political entities from using your “voodoo doll avatar” to micro target you with political messaging, and worse still, they are also not concerned about the accuracy of this political messaging leading to the real possibility of the spread of false information. (See Facebook exempts political ads from ban on making false claims)

Also see this piece in the Washington Post Tech firms under fire on political ads are trying every response but the right one

This situation led to this observation from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

So with eyes wide open I am returning to publishing content here with the understanding that by doing so I am helping fill out my “voodoo doll avatar” and that I at the same time have to be really careful about the veracity of the information being shared on Facebook. I am also returning with the knowledge that enough eyes are now focused on Facebook to ensure that their bad acting will be surfaced and challenged.

I now walk the Facebook streets like I would a dangerous neighborhood, paying attention to everything around me. Eyes wide open.

Over the last week or so my thinking has been heavily influenced by Sir Tim Burners Lee as outlined in his Richard Dimbleby Lecture a few days ago. I highly recommend the time it will take to listen to this lecture and the reason Sir Tim gives for there being a need to be a course correct.

This lecture preceded the release of the Contract for the web which outlines 9 Principles, 3 each for Governments, Companies and Citizens. This will be guiding my actions on the web going forward.

(Interestingly both Google and Facebook have endorsed the contract. Whether they live up to their endorsement remains to be seen.)

Going forward I am extremely excited by the developments around projects like Solid and WT:Social which is really pointing the way to an alternative to the Google/Facebook world we are often forced to participate in.

This past month has helped me remove Facebook as a critical part of my online presence, both personal and for my business, making it easier to simply use the platform as a name placeholder or delete my accounts altogether if that becomes necessary.

As always you can also find me active on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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